Posted by: lordkyler | November 1, 2014

The Essence of Time – Short Story

The sequel to Chosen

“Sir, I’m sorry, but you need to either make a choice or step out of line. We have other customers waiting.” The waitress looked at me expectantly, head cocked to the side. I blinked and shook my head, trying to ground myself in the moment. It was difficult.

Three days ago, an alien spaceship crashed in front of me, and the dying alien within had entrusted me with what he claimed to be a time travel device. You don’t believe me, of course, but it’s a fact. At least, I’m pretty sure it actually happened. It’s hard when your brain is constantly calling itself a liar. I’m the kind of guy that will pick a movie to pieces even if I love it, and now that same ruthless process of logic and elimination has turned on itself, and it is tearing me apart.

So that’s why I’m in the coffee shop right now, staring blankly at this girl with the apron and lip piercings. I’ve been in my house for the last three days, and if I wasn’t already crazy, I was going to be soon. I had to leave the house, whether I was ready to face civilization or not. The waitress’s stare told me I was not.

“Sorry,” I murmured, and stepped out of line. I headed for an isolated table and buried my face in my hands. It was all too much to process. I had been trying to break it down for some time now, but nearly everything about it was too big to comprehend. Alien life, space travel, intergalactic warfare? Nothing. Too big. The existence, responsibility, and mechanics of time travel? Ha! There was no way to be sure what I might change, if indeed I could change anything, and no way to be sure I could change it back if I messed up.

I could barely figure out my life before the universe had dumped this in my lap, and now I was one million percent hopelessly lost. I wished I could tell somebody, but the alien guy had said it was too dangerous to tell anyone, and I figured he probably knows what he’s talking about.

No, there is only a single thought I have been able to focus on, a single raindrop plucked from the maelstrom of my thoughts. I’m pretty sure I have to kill Hitler. I don’t speak German, I failed history class three times – oh, the irony – and I’ve never used a gun outside of Call of Duty, but it’s one of those unwritten rules of time travel. If you gain the ability to travel through time and do not use this ability to kill Hitler, you are instantly the worst person in the world. Worse, perhaps, than Hitler himself. Somehow.

My musings on how to overthrow the Third Reich are suddenly interrupted by a tingling on the back of my neck, which soon grows into an insistent buzzing. It’s the chip the alien placed on my spine, the one that allows me to control the Chronis device. The skin had grown over it in a remarkably short time, but if I thought about it, I could still feel it there, as if waiting. I fingered the Chronis device itself, a small medallion that I had in my pocket. It seemed fine, so what was the point of the buzzing?

The door to the coffee shop opened, letting in the rain for a moment. Two men entered, dressed in black suits underneath gray trenchcoats. Despite the midday thunderstorm gloom, they wore sunglasses. They were the most clichéd government agents you could imagine. The buzzing of the chip changed from a warning signal into a full-blown DEFCON 1 alarm. I suddenly remembered one of the warnings the alien had given, about a group he called the Collective. And how they were out to destroy the universe. And how they were allied with the government.

My blood froze even as the fire of adrenaline flared into life. Had one of the emergency responders at the crash site seen me? I was a pretty generic-looking guy, but those guys were trained professionals. They probably had sketches, maybe even blurry pictures. Still, I didn’t have tattoos or piercings or any weird hairstyles. I was just a skinny dude with a rat’s nest of a hairdo and some scruffy facial hair. There were a thousand guys like me in this neighborhood. In fact, the most distinctive thing about me was my clothes, and-

I realized with a sinking feeling that I was wearing the same hoodie as I had been the night of the crash. I cursed myself under my breath. The hoodie was custom made and very distinctive, based on Wolverine’s old-school blue and yellow costume. It made me stand out like – well, like a costumed freak.

The men approached the front desk, elbowing past the line of waiting customers. Some reacted angrily, but when they saw who was pushing past, they quieted down. As I said, you’d have to be blind not to notice they were government agents of some sort.

They approached the barista who threw me out of line and held up a photo. I couldn’t hear what they said, but it was clear enough from the girl’s expression. She rolled her eyes, then raised her hand and pointed straight at me.

I ran.

Listen. I rarely do anything halfway. I’m either totally apathetic or completely obsessed. And if there’s one thing I’m committed to, it’s staying alive. I jumped through the storefront window. It was quicker than getting through the crowd by the door.

Broken glass fell around me with the rain, a razor-sharp hail that shattered on the sidewalk. It crunched underfoot as I ran. People in the coffee-shop screamed behind me. I veered to the left, dodging a crowd of people huddled under umbrellas. They gasped, but didn’t try to get in my way.

I reached the corner, but traffic was thick, so I followed the sidewalk going around the block. I snuck a look back as I turned. The two men were running, gray trench-coats flapping in the wind behind them like flags. They were fast, like Olympian fast. I suddenly found another level of speed. The crosswalk here was green, so I crossed, ignoring the stares of the people in the cars I passed.

Across the street was a building surrounded by a fence. I decided to take a chance and try to jump it. These guys were good athletes, but they weighed more than I did, so they might have a harder time following me. If nothing else, it would break their line of sight and give me a chance to hide.

I leapt as high as I could, my sneakers squeaking on the wet vinyl interwoven with the chain-link fence. I grabbed the top of the fence, ignoring the wires digging into my fingers, and hauled myself over in a quick but clumsy motion. I turned to land on my feet, but found that the other side of the fence was lower. Unprepared, I landed hard, and felt my ankle twist. I stumbled and splashed into a large puddle.

The buzzing at the base of my skull grew more insistent, cutting through my frenzied thoughts in the same way the icy water soaked my clothing. They were closer. The headlights of a turning car cast a shadow against the vinyl fence, the silhouettes of two men in long coats with their hands in their pockets. They appeared motionless. Why had they stopped? Surely they didn’t think they had lost me.

The sound of traffic died away as the cars drove on, leaving only the patter of the rain. Still no sign of my pursuers. Were they waiting for backup? Circling to surround me? I crawled my way to a stack of pallets stacked against the fence, adrenaline muting the pain in my leg.  I curled into a ball next to the fence, and waited.

Suddenly the rain stopped. I don’t mean it stopped raining. I mean, the rain itself stopped. A thousand raindrops hung suspended in the air like tiny crystals. The world had gone dead silent. No birdsong or traffic, no rain or thunder. Even the air itself seemed dead and still, without so much as a breath of wind. Time had stopped.

My heartbeat suddenly seemed deafening. Every panting breath made it seem as though I may as well be calling them with a megaphone. Then I heard footsteps coming from the last place I had seen them. They were slow, measured steps, perfectly synchronized, like the drums sounding the march to the firing squad. One went left, the other went right. Then they stopped again, on either side of me. My heart was pounding like a jackhammer. Stay still, said my brain. RUN! screamed my gut.

I ran, bolting from my hiding spot. Every step felt as though I had upside-down high heels strapped on to my feet, jarring my ankle horrendously, but I didn’t care. If I could make it inside the building, maybe I could find something to fight with, or a better place to hide. And then one of the agents jumped the fence, clearing it in a single, twelve-foot bound like some demon kangaroo. He landed in a standing position, in impeccable posture, not even bending his knees on impact. That was more than athletic. That was inhuman.

Behind my, there was as sharp clap as the other agent landed, cutting off my retreat. It stood there menacingly but made no move to attack. The first one spoke.

“Hand over the Chronis device, or we will be forced to kill you,” it said. It spoke in a lifeless monotone, face blank and eyes unmoving. Some sort of robot or cyborg?

“Why?” I squeaked. “What do you want with it?”

The agent blinked. “Irrelevant,” it said. “You have three seconds to comply.”

I thought of the alien who had given me this stupid device and stuck a chip in my head. What did I owe him? How did I even know he was a good guy?

“Three,” the agent pronounced.

Then again, these guys are nothing if not scary. They did just threaten to kill me, and they don’t want to explain why.


Ironic that they’re counting down when time is stopped, isn’t it? I should have all the time in the world.


I laughed. I might be the world’s biggest idiot. I’m standing here facing a countdown with a time machine in my pocket.

“Zero,” said the agent.

“Wait!” I said. The agent paused, halfway to reaching whatever nasty device he had under his coat. “I’ll give it to you,” I said, begging. “Just don’t hurt me.”

The agent holstered whatever weapon he’d been drawing and stepped closer. “Set the Chronis device on the ground and walk away,” he said. His voice betrayed no triumph, no suspicion, no emotion of any kind.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean the Chronis device,” I said, smirking. “I meant these.” I flipped them both the bird and activated the Chronis device with a thought, just as I had a few nights ago.

Nothing happened. I went nowhere. There was no time skip. i had expected to find myself in either an empty parking lot or the coffee shop, depending on how the time travel might work. Instead, there was a very uncomfortable silence, during which I silently listed off curses to match my gestures.

“This is not the object we desire,” said the agent, and reached into his coat again, pulling out what looked like a pen with a light on the top. “Do not attempt to escape with the device. Our temporal dampeners will prevent you from leaving.”

Thanks for the heads up, pal. Think think think. They are stronger than me. Faster than me. Better armed.

But they’re not human. They can’t be, not after what I’ve seen them do. They might be robots, maybe disguised aliens. Their faces are expressionless, and they aren’t breathing heavily, or perhaps not at all. Probably robots. Either way, they seem logical. Perhaps too logical.

“You think I keep it with me?” I ask. The agent blinks. “Do you honestly think I’m stupid enough to carry it around with me in public? With people like you after it?” I laughed, and hoped they wouldn’t notice the bulge in my pocket that told the real story.

“Tell us where you have hidden it and we will allow you to leave freely once we have retrieved it.”

Not as good as I’d hoped for, but I could work with that. “I left it back at the coffee shop, on the seat. By now somebody may have picked it up, and you’ll never find it. I know you can’t track it directly or you would have found it already.”

“Watch him,” the agent said to his partner, and bolted, clearing the fence in a single stride. After a few seconds, the rain starting falling again. I tried to use the Chronis again but it didn’t work. I turned to look at the other agent. He looked almost identical to the first, but his hair was slicked back and he was somewhat taller and broader. He said nothing. It seemed his partner did the talking.

We shared a lovely awkward silence as he waited for his partner. I put a few pieces together. Their time stopping thingies must have a certain area of effect, perhaps a few hundred feet. They could only stop time if they were together, but either one could prevent my time travel. Presumably the chip in my head prevented me from being frozen in time with everything else. They did not seem to want their powers known publicly.

And so when I heard a gate opening behind me, I screamed at the top of my lungs. Never have I been more grateful that I scream like a girl. Two burly warehouse workers poked their heads around the corner.

“Help!” I yelled. “He’ll kill me!”

The agent had been reaching into his coat for a weapon, but he stopped when he saw the two guys. I bolted, ankle forgotten in the surge of adrenaline. The agent followed, but not at his full speed. He couldn’t reveal himself, so the playing field was level. Several stacks of pallets was placed against the fence, forming a crude staircase, and I took it, jumping without knowing where I would land.

I sailed over the sidewalk and landed on the blacktop. I could tell by the way my ankle bent that it had broken completely, but I could not feel it at all. I tumbled and rolled, accumulating a series of scrapes and bruises. I kept myself going until I was across the street, coming to a stop against the curb. A delivery truck came barreling out the open gate of the warehouse, drenching me with water as it passed.

The agent was standing on top of the pallets, watching me with expressionless eyes. I could hear shouting behind him as the warehouse workers sounded the alarm. He made no move to come toward me. I closed my eyes and made a wish.

The world seemed to turn inside out, and I was suddenly upright, warm, and dry. My legs seemed to be undamaged. I opened my eyes and saw a girl with short hair and a short attitude. Her lower lip had enough piercings to function as barbed wire, but at this moment I could have kissed her.

“Hello? Do you want anything or not, buddy?” she asked.

I found myself grinning manically. “I do,” I said, pulling out a twenty, “But I don’t think you can help me.” I dropped the bill on the counter, snatched up someone else’s cappuccino, and walked out. Down the street, the two agents were stepping out of a car, but I ducked into the crowd with the umbrellas and was soon out of sight.

I headed straight home afterward. I had some research to do.


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